By ending cohorting, Bright Yellow mode gives seniors the chance to end their Potomac careers as the on-campus leaders

Isabel Engel and Billy Marin

On March 5, the senior administrative team broke the news that, as of April 5, three grades will be on campus each week, in a move to be named the “Bright Yellow” mode of hybrid learning. With the change, seniors will spend every day on campus in the month of April before they leave to pursue their final senior projects. While this plan will, of course, benefit all students with more on-campus time in the spring, it primarily affects the Class of 2021 whose senior year has been far from normal. 

Cohorted with the junior class, seniors have never been on campus with freshmen and have been isolated from sophomores since last March. The chance to mix with the freshman and sophomores in Bright Yellow mode was a main motive for the move. 

“It has always been my hope, and it’s felt like an impossible dream, to get the seniors to have the experience to interact with underclassmen because that interaction is one of the most wonderful traditions and aspects of this community,” said Upper School head Doug McLane. 

Seniors, who have missed much of their last year on campus, are thrilled to end their Potomac experience with a month of on-campus learning. Senior lifer Maya Sardar exclaimed, “I’m really excited for this schedule change. Although it’ll be hard transitioning from Yellow mode to every day in person, I’m looking forward to it because it’s the last of my 12 years here. I’ve missed this place.’

Ninth grade dean Jake Westermann reiterated Mr. McLane’s desire to facilitate interactions between under and upperclassmen interactions this spring. Seniors being on campus will have benefits for the freshman, who have not yet been able to take part in so many aspects key to the Potomac experience. 

“It’s really important to me that freshmen get to experience the senior class. I think there’s a lot of value in ninth-graders getting to look up to the senior class, because it is a way for freshmen to see everything this school has to offer, and build back that sense of community that’s kind of been missing this year,” he said. 

With an invigorated sense of community, the seniors will be able to assume a place of leadership not possible amidst the pandemic thus far. 

“To be able to finish their choppy high school journey as the leaders of the upper school, with underclassmen on campus at the same time, is something that every senior class has. This gives the seniors the opportunity to really fill that role as leaders for their last couple of weeks,” Mr. McLane said. 

Those leadership roles, from club leaders to team captains, are essential elements of student life in the Upper School that allow all community members to get involved in a wide array of activities. 

“All these parts of the community that are led by seniors, The Current, Phoebus, The Investment Club, all of these things that are really senior initiatives, freshmen haven’t really gotten to see that,” Mr. Westermann added. 

The Class of 2021, undeniably excited at the prospect of more on-campus time, also values the inter-grade connections that have been largely missing this academic year. Senior captain Evelina Swigart emphasized that it is the interactions between seniors and underclassmen that build our school community. 

“There are a lot of things I think that have been missing this year, and a big one was the sense of community that comes from being the oldest people on campus. Seeing freshmen, whether it’s on sports teams, in the classroom, or just in the hallways, and beginning to build those friendships across grades was a super important thing that as an underclassman I always looked forward to,” Evelina said. 

Another senior captain, Elie DeLaVille, echoed Evelina and talked about the importance of leadership in forming a strong community. As a four-year Potomac athlete, he has watched and admired senior athletic leaders and was excited to play that same role. 

“Having the younger guys on campus is so big for the community because those connections, where seniors are role models and the people the underclassmen want to be, are such a valuable part of the Potomac experience. I remember the guys I looked up to when I was a freshman, and getting the chance to be that guy as a senior was an opportunity I’m sorry I missed,” he said. 

While having three grades on campus will by no means fix the difficult, disconnected year for the Potomac community, and the world at large, interactions between seniors and underclassmen will go a long way in rebuilding much of what has been lost since COVID-19 hit a year ago. Some semblance of normalcy is all the Class of 2021 has been seeking. 

“I think normal isn’t possible, but if there is a way that the senior class can have some kind of routine with being together for their last four weeks on campus, that would be really valuable and important,” said Mr. McLane.